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Sabres look to carry momentum out of break

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

MONTREAL - Three days were enough for the Buffalo Sabres to put their game in Dallas on Friday - a 4-3 loss in which three video reviews went in favor of the Stars - behind them, but Jack Eichel did carry one lesson back from that game as Buffalo returned from the All-Star break.

"I think that the consistency in our game is starting to come back but in terms of showing up every night and playing a full 60, I mean, I thought we still played a good game in Dallas and we still ended up with zero points," Eichel said from the dressing room at Bell Centre on Monday. "You can make that argument that we had a couple goals that were called back and this and that but the thing is we did have a 2-0 lead and weren't able to put them away and we end up losing a game."

When it comes to making a push for the playoffs as they begin the home stretch, the key word is consistency for Eichel and his Sabres teammates. It's something they've progressively gotten better at as they've continued to get healthier. Buffalo is 7-4-1 in January, already their best month with one more game to play.

Buffalo's forward group is as healthy as it's been all season with the exception of Johan Larsson, who's out indefinitely. Jack Eichel has scored 12 goals since returning in December, Evander Kane has scored 14 goals in his last 25 games after going scoreless in 11 games upon his return from cracked ribs and Ryan O'Reilly, who missed 11 games first due to an injury and then due to an appendectomy, has been healthy and in the lineup since Jan. 5. 

With those key players all healthy and producing, the Sabres have scored 40 goals in 12 games this month, an average of 3.33 goals per game.

"I think you see coming into how we can play and how we need to play," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I also think we've been a harder team to play against and been able to play with good teams the way we want to play, which is in the offensive zone and playing in that direction and playing that hard and we've scored more goals as the result of it."

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

Having won three games in a row prior to the loss in Dallas, the Sabres find themselves exiting the break tied with Detroit, New Jersey, and Carolina with 49 points, fewest in the Eastern Conference, and yet still only seven points behind both Philadelphia for the second wild card spot and Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division. Buffalo has two games in hand on the Flyers and four on the Bruins.

Both Brian Gionta and Kane - 15 and eight-year veterans of the League, respectively - said the standings are as close from top to bottom as they ever remember seeing them. With that comes the potential for the Sabres to still make a push in spite of a slow start, but also the task of having to jump multiple teams to make up that ground. 

"We can't dwell on the past," Eichel said. "We've put ourselves in a position to do something after, you know, losing a lot of games that we needed and we're still in position to make a run. You just need to be rattling off wins here. You can't lose two in a row at all. I think we need to go on a streak here and put ourselves in position to make a push."

The push begins when the Sabres play the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Tuesday night, with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. on MSG-B. 


Kane looking to stay hot

As mentioned above, Kane scored 14 goals in 25 games heading into the break, including two in Dallas. That's an average of .56 goals per game which, stretched out over the course of an 82-game season, would put him on pace to score 45 goals.

Kane's career-high for goals in a season is 30, which he reached with Winnipeg in 2011-12. He pointed out the fact that he only played in 74 games in that season and also experienced an 11-game stretch without a goal, the point being that this level of production from him isn't unprecedented. It's simply a matter of staying healthy and staying consistent.

"I think I can score goals a lot of different ways," he said. "Going to the net, using my shot, finishing plays in tight. I think I'm playing right now the way I know I'm capable of playing, I've done it before … If I can stay healthy and continue to feel good with my body I feel that I can do this at a consistent rate."


Monday's practice

Josh Gorges (hip) and Jake McCabe (shoulder) remained absent with their respective injuries, but Bylsma said that both defensemen are moving in the right direction and added that the team expects to have more of an update on Wednesday or Thursday.
Goalie Anders Nilsson had an excused absence as he traveled back from Sweden, while Kyle Okposo got the day off after representing the Sabres in the All-Star Game on Sunday.

Here's how the lines look at practice in Montreal:

63 Tyler Ennis - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 48 William Carrier
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 26 Matt Moulson

77 Dmitry Kulikov - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
47 Zach Bogosian - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun

40 Robin Lehner

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